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Saturday, May 30, 2020

My Alternative to Portland Rose Festival

This year has been weird, but we're finding cool things where we can, and that means we'll be doing a lot of local tourism that's also responsible. The Portland Rose Festival would be happening right about now and The Grand Floral Parade is one of the biggest draws to Downtown Portland. We've been spending some weekends driving around to the Parading In Place homes, but the other part of this festival is the floats made of flowers. 

These floats are amazing and covered in flowers, and even though I'm not usually into flowers, I'm always awed by the amount of work these participants put in. I used to have a job that shared a parking lot with the warehouses where these floats were created, so every once in a while we were allowed to come check it out or we saw floats coming and going. I have noticed some great gardens in my own neighborhood, so I took a walk the other day to capture some of my favorite blooms. 


Because I suffer from allergies, it's hard for me to get too excited by most flowers, but I can't deny how beautiful Spring is and how talented my neighbors are. Since I also won't be able to enjoy the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival or the Dahlia Festival, I found this to be the next best thing. Here are just a few of the awesome gardens near me:

I want to thank those in my neighborhood that help beautify it. I also want to show you that just because so much stuff is cancelled or postponed, doesn't mean we only get to sit in our homes and binge Netflix and eat chips. Our cities in Oregon are "opening" in June, but we'll still be trying to be careful about our activities. Much of our summer will be enjoying outdoor spaces, including patio dining, food trucks, Portland parks, and street art.  You can do the same wherever you live. While I'll be writing about some of it, make sure to follow me on Instagram to see more pics. 

You can also see more of my favorite gardens from my travels:

What will you be doing in your city this summer?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

4 More Ways to Stretch Your Hotel Budget

This week we're looking ahead to when we can travel again. Right now, you can still plan a trip for later. If you missed the first four tips, go check that out first. Accommodations don't have to break the bank. If you know what to look for or how to book and on what days, you can save big bucks. Imagine what else you can do on your trip with the money you save.

You can always get a better deal on your accommodations if you know what you want from one or even ask for things you wish were included. In fact, now is a great time to haggle with a hotel for amenities, because the industry is struggling and some things that they normally charge for they may be perfectly happy to include in your booking for free.

Stay in Brand New Hotels

Hotels that have been newly built or totally remodeled often have an introductory period right when they open that offers rock-bottom rates. HotelChatter is a website that not only shows reviews of hotels, but they also list the opening dates of new hotels and update them if they change. The list shows hotels worldwide, so you can search before you book your room.

Go All-Inclusive

I know you’re paying to stay at these places to be entertained and well-fed; most of them also offer free activities in the form of non-motorized watersports and even have nightly entertainment. That’s a freebie in my opinion, though you may feel differently. I suggest pricing out what you would expect to spend on your trip if you didn’t go all-inclusive and see if the savings are significant enough to go one way or the other.

Stay in a Vacation Rental

If you have a large family, this may be your perfect solution. Rentals are booked per night, not by guest counts, so whether you have three people or eight people in your travel party you pay the same price. The other pluses to a rental are: having more space to stretch out, having a kitchen to cook your own meals in (or at least store some snacks and leftovers), there aren’t 20 potential neighbors waking you up at all hours and many rentals have a washing machine. I wrote a whole post on my love of vacation rentals.

Look for Freebies

Free is always a great price, but if you don’t know how to get it, then it’s not really all that helpful. I love travel freebies and try to maximize them on every trip I take, because that’s less money I have to pay out of my own pocket. The more money I save, the better trip I can take or the more I can put towards a future vacation. There’s also the fact that if you save more, you spend less and suddenly a trip that was a little out of your reach is now within your budget!

  • Free Breakfast – Free continental or buffet breakfast is a fantastic saver! On the low end, say you usually only have coffee and a bagel in the morning, you can save $5 per person, but on the higher end, if you like to eat out and have someone wait on you in the morning, you could be looking at $12+ per person.
  • Kids Eat Free – If your hotel has a restaurant and they offer free dining for kids, this is another big savings. Usually, you can get free meals for up to two kids this way if you purchase an adult entrée. Assuming a kid’s meal is an average of $6, that’s up to $18 per day, per child.
  • Free Wi-Fi – I always like to stay in touch while I’m on vacation, so I tend to bring my iPad and netbook everywhere I travel. This way my husband and I can both check up on what’s been happening while we’ve been gone and also communicate with friends and family. Hotels and resorts sometimes charge for internet service, or you can wait in the lobby and use one of their computers free of charge for a few minutes. Your best bet on this is to find one of the many places that give you free Wi-Fi, because it can save you weekly or daily rates, or those per-minute rates charged by Internet cafés. You also can’t do much business if you’re on a time limit.
  • Laundry On-Site – While usually not free, it’s still a minimal charge to use the machines there compared to the local Laundromat or worse, the laundry services they offer where you leave your bag of clothing and then come back to fresh clothes and a bill. Generally, the machines off-site can range anywhere from $1.75 - $3.00 per load for both the washer and the dryer. If you do laundry out of the country, it can cost almost $8 just to wash your clothes. Anytime I’ve used the on-site facilities, they range from $.50-1.00 for each machine and most times they were free. It’s easy to throw clothes in while you’re resting from your day out walking.
  • Free Coffee and Snacks – Many hotels offer free coffee/tea and snacks (like fruit and cookies) in the lobby. There’s no reason to not take advantage of such things that are included in your room rate. Think about all the times you want to snack during the day while you’re sightseeing. If you had a banana or some other snacky thing that you snagged on your way out, you wouldn’t have to shell out any money again until lunch or dinner. The free coffee and/or tea provided, while not fancy, can save you a trip to Starbucks in the morning.
  • Free Alcoholic Beverages – If drinking is one of your favorite vacation pastimes, there are a few ways to get free drinks on your travels. The most obvious way is to stay at an all-inclusive resort where this is included. I consider it free, because you’re paying for your accommodations, entertainment and food all in one lump sum. Anything beyond that is a plus in my book. Another thing you can do is find a hotel that offers a free cocktail hour. They are kinda few and far between, but if you’re lucky you can find them.
I hope this helps you plan a fantastic trip and find the best hotel room for your needs. 

What are your favorite hotels to stay at and what makes it so awesome?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Always Eat After 7PM and Have More Energy

This post is brought to you by our sponsor, “Always Eat After 7 PM”. The opinions expressed below are my own.

As a frequent traveler, I often go on a trip and walk several miles per day. When you have to walk up a couple steep staircases, but stop to take many breaks, you know something has to change. I’ve wanted to up my stamina/energy and get into better shape for years. I’d also love to look better in a bathing suit for when I hit up the Las Vegas pool each summer. When I was offered the chance to receive an advance copy of Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight by Joel Marion, I was absolutely ready to try it.

Like most other people, we were taught to avoid carbs, have an early dinner, and never eat before bed. But the fact is, the latest scientific research shows us this earlier model is not the most ideal. I have been living with the idea that eating after 7 PM was not a good thing and usually use that as a cut-off point for eating, unless it’s Friday or Saturday night, where we stay up later and often go to happy hour later in the evening.

I’m not generally a snacker either, but I love many high-carb foods. Imagine my surprise when I learned that this isn’t a problem at all. Joel says “Specific higher-carbohydrate foods (including berries and cherries) support your fat-burning metabolism while you sleep, providing your body with a steady stream of fuel throughout the night. The trick is knowing how to combine them with other evening and pre-bedtime fat-burning foods to fuel your metabolism as you sleep.”

I can eat something tasty at night and not worry about it negatively affecting my body? This was news to me, so I dove right in. I love food and I want to eat delicious food. Not traditional “diet” food. Nobody wants to eat a restricted diet or eat tasteless foods, and only get eat certain times of the day. When you "can't" eat, that's when you want it the most. I eat when I’m hungry, though I’ve trained myself to just go to bed if it’s too late to eat anything, but apparently, I didn’t have to do that. “What if it was okay to eat late at night? What if it was okay to skip breakfast? What if it was okay to snack on carbs at night?” Joel asked those questions and found the answers. I don't like to eat breakfast most days and I do eat most of my calories in the evening, and even though I’m healthy, I’d like to be healthier and also eliminate a few extra pounds.

The most challenging times to curb hunger are just before bed and in the morning. By following the Always Eat After 7PM program, you have the most willpower to stay on the diet because you are eating during the hours when you are most hungry. This also puts you into both intermittent fasting increasing testosterone and your metabolism, while putting you into ketosis.  

I’d love to be able to be more active and not have to take a break climbing the many steps to get into awesome destination landmarks and buildings like the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where the famous Rocky steps are) or the Arc de Triomphe (the view from the top is phenomenal). In September, we visited Edinburgh where everything was up a huge flight of steps or a very steep incline. It was beautiful, but also difficult some days.

With Joel’s 14-day jumpstart plan, I can learn to eat better, but also in a normal way that doesn’t feel like I’m missing out. If you’re interested in getting healthier or losing some lbs, check out this video on the science behind the diet:

Are you ready to start, too? Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight by Joel Marion is now available to purchase. Learn more about the book and how to purchase here.

This post is brought to you by our sponsor, “Always Eat After 7 PM”. The opinions expressed above are my own.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

4 Ways to Get More From Your Hotel Budget

There are plenty of things to consider when finding a place to stow your belongings and close your eyes at night. Price may be the biggest factor for you, but that doesn't mean the less you pay the worse your stay. There are plenty of budget and moderate hotels that offer wonderful service and surroundings if you know where and how to look. 

It's important to weigh all your options when deciding on where to sleep. Does it have a restaurant? Is it close to fun activities? Is it convenient to public transportation? Does it offer free breakfast? Free Wi-Fi? Is it on a busy street? Do the rooms offer kitchenettes? All these questions are important and if the answer is yes, you could save big. The more inclusive extras you can get on a vacation, the further your money goes.

Track Hotel Rates

Use Kayak to track hotel rates. Find a great deal? Search for the hotel(s) you are interested in and then track those specific ones. Even if you have reservations with them already, keep them on your list and keep waiting for prices to drop. Kayak will alert you to any prices that are lower than what you’ve already booked. If the price goes down, get on the phone with the establishment and see if you can change your reservation to reflect the lower rate.

Get Rewarded for your Loyalty

Sign up for Hotels.com’s Welcome Rewards and get free hotel nights. For every 10 nights you book through Hotels.com, you get one free night. You don't need to stay 10 nights in a row, in the same hotel or even in the same year. Your credits just accumulate until you've reached 10 nights and then you are eligible to receive your free night. The price will be based on the average of the price per night you stayed for each of your 10 paid nights. If you wish to stay at a hotel that costs more than that, you will just pay the difference. If you frequent the same hotel or hotel chain, get on their loyalty program and start racking up points with each stay. You can trade these in for free nights and upgrades when you need them.

Avoid the Weekend

Hotel rates are almost always cheaper on Sunday through Thursday nights. Most people travel on the weekend. They know this, just like the airlines, so they make prices for Friday and Saturday stays more expensive. In some cases, they can be twice as much as on weeknights.

Stay in Business-Minded Hotels on the Weekend

Unlike most hotels, those that cater to business travelers don’t get much action on the weekend, so rates drop to encourage visitors to stay. These hotels are also ones to book over holidays, because they can be fairly empty and prices plummet.

Eventually, we'll be able to travel again and be able to stay in hotels. Right now, you can still plan a trip for the future. Not only will it make you feel good to have a vacation to look forward to, but you can also support travel and tourism, too.

Where are you most looking forward to going when non-essential travel is back?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

We Drove Around Town to See a "Parade"

Every June, Portland holds the Rose Festival, with a carnival and several events. The most notable of these is the Grand Floral Parade where people flock to downtown to watch floats made of flowers and things go slowly down the street, even though they could watch it on TV. I love the parade, but it's got two major things I'm not a fan of: getting there super early to get a good spot and giant crowds. 

Now, people are known to set up their chairs the night before the parade and some even stay there overnight. I once went with my mom at 6am to stake out a spot (the parade doesn't even start until 10am) and by the time it started I was ready to go to sleep. Ever since, I've just taped it on TV and watched it at my leisure. 

This year, with Covid and the ban on gatherings of 25 or more people through September, the parade and all the other festivities have been cancelled. Bummer, right? Well, the city came up with a wicked cool way to do the parade anyway in what they are calling Parading In Place. People signed up to add their houses to a map for either the Porch Parade or the Rose Garden. These people decorated their porches, yards, house fronts in the spirit of the Grand Floral Parade, and others let people just come by to see their amazing gardens. 

We jumped in the car last week and armed with the map and our GPS, we drove across town where the majority of decorated porches were located, so we could see everyone's creativity. Granted, some porches were more involved than others, but the fact that people participated was awesome. 

The above two are not strictly for the Parade Route, but I liked how Portlanders were making their city better.

I just wanted to show that just because life seems lame right now and everything is closed doesn't mean that you can't do things or travel, even if it's just around your own city. All cities have a list of events happening, and hopefully, yours will also be trying to get creative, especially with summer coming. This is the time when a bunch of cool events are usually under way, but people are trying their best to make the most of this crazy situation. 

If you live in Portland, you can see the map and tour the Porch Parade and Rose Garden homes by going to Parading In Place. You can also search #paradinginplace on Instagram.

What cool things is your city doing to help make Quarantine more bearable? 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Taking Your Next Great Road Trip

Non-essential travel is still kind of off the the table right now, but things are changing every single day, so this may or may not be the case come July. As things stand now, experts are suggesting Summer travel that encompasses only essential travel, domestic destinations, and probably doing so in your car. We're doing a decent job flattening the curve, and that doesn't mean we can just go back to normal, since that will create more problems. 

Places like New York are overwhelmed by the amount of Covid patients in their hospitals, with people dying every hour (a few weeks ago, the numbers were one death every 12 seconds, which is just to put things in perspective, because just pretending everything's good now is definitely not the way to go on this). Let's not destroy all the progress we have made by cramming onto planes right when we're getting everything, somewhat, under control.

If you have to get away from the house and want to visit family or just go get yourself a hotel room or vacation rental for a change of scenery, you're probably going to embark on a road trip in the next couple of months. Be it a day trip, weekend getaway to a local National Park, or somewhere off the beaten path, taking all the necessary precautions are still going to be strongly encouraged. You'll want to avoid crowded places, like popular beaches (sorry).

Because you can properly social distance by traveling in your own vehicle, this is going to be a popular method of going anywhere for foreseeable future. So, for those looking forward to getting away, I have some great road trip tips for you.

Don't drive straight through!

The golden rule of road trips is that you stop along the way and stop often. Driving for 4+ hours straight is B O R I N G. Even if you play games or sleep, people will get grumpy, your legs will get stiff and you won't be happy. Plan a route that has stops. While a lot of places won't be open, make sure to do a bit of research to see if there are any cool diners that are doing take-out or have outside seating or are close to a park/rest stop, or neat landmarks/attractions that you can view from outside.

Find everything from gas and rest areas to museums and food on your way by downloading the free app called iExit. Find out what's at every exit along the highway wherever you go.

If you're going with kids, I love having a road trip kit for each of them. These backseat organizers are perfect for littles, teens, and even adults. They have room to hold all their books, electronics, and drinks, but they also don't take up that much spaced, so there's still enough leg room for everyone back there.

Dress comfortably

It is so easy to dress comfortably and still look like a person nowadays with fabrics like jersey, bamboo and rayon. Just because you've been in the car for 10 hours, doesn't mean you have to look like a slob. Not only are these fabrics comfy, but they also resist wrinkles and breathe well, too. If you can't live without your trusty jeans, invest in some nice ones with stretch. I also like to shop PrAna, Columbia, Toad & Co or any activewear section of your favorite store for good looking pieces that are breathable and moisture-wicking.

Bring tunes from home

Don't rely on just the radio, otherwise you'll have times were the only thing you get are Christian and deep country music, if you can pick up anything. I swear there must be radio towers built into the mountains for these stations. If you're a fan of either, you are probably okay, but I still suggest loading up your phone with some good road tunes, podcasts or e-books. That way you have a variety of things to listen to and aren't forced to listen to Jesus Rock in between static if you don't want to. On my solo trip, I listened to Harry Potter as read by Stephen Fry in between bouts of music. Yer a [road trip] wizard!

Plan some entertainment

You'll probably bring electronics, but make sure you bring/plan offline things to do, too. Books, magazines, notebooks and crayons are always good to keep on-hand, as are travel-sized games and things like license plate bingo that everyone can play. Create a binder for your trip that has printable games. If you have small kids, check out this grab bag idea from Glue Sticks Blog. I also like this road trip binder

A paper map is a must

Yes, you have a smarty phone with fancy GPS, but batteries die and not all roads show up on satellites. (Just ask those kids from Cabin in the Woods - "This road isn't even worthy of global positioning.") You never know what might happen, so an old-fashioned map is great for those unforeseen circumstances. If you don’t buy one before you leave home, pick one up at a gas station, convenience store, or rest areas. You can also create a custom travel map on Google maps. I've done this for my last 3 trips, which really helps cut down on paperwork and also Google maps will let me know when I'm close to something on my list.

Bring foods!

Eating out frequently is really going to take a bite out of your budget and totally ruin your diet. It also might not be possible places, so instead of leaving it up to chance, bring a cooler stocked with homemade stuffs – like fried chicken, potato salad and muffins – along with fixings for sandwiches, sides, drinks and snacks to nibble on in between stops. I love to snack when I drive. My bags are always packed with bagels, cream cheese, lunch meat, condiments, chips, etc. I pack like I may not stop anywhere at all, because you never know. You can even bring along a travel coffee maker like this one if you need a good cup and want to save some money over Starbucks. 

Don't forget plates, bowls, cups, napkins, and utensils! I'm a big fan of these multi-use utensil sets and squishy bowls from Humangear. I also throw a selection of zip-top bags, as well as bigger plastic or paper bags for garbage and some wipes for hands and spills.

Have a plan

I know that one of the best parts of road trips is just going and seeing what happens. Well, with the current conditions, you never know what might happen and what may be open or closed. Make sure you have foods for everyone and you make reservations before leaving home, if you can, to ensure you have a place to sleep, or call ahead to make sure campgrounds or RV parks are open for you to stay there. 

Don't forget to get your car ready before you hit the road, so you don't end up stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, because that'll suck. Make sure you also practice road trip safety.

Pack light

Once you've made all the boring and necessary checks on your car, it's time to start packing. Even though I have plenty of room in the trunk (and backseat), I still try to pack light. I don't want to drag a ton of bags in and out of hotels everyday and it's nice to have spare room in your car for any purchases your may make along the way. On my way to Vegas, I kept it to one small carry-on for my clothing, the small cooler you see here and the insulated Trader Joe's bag for other food, goodies and dry items like paper towels. I definitely came back with more than I left with, so that extra space came in handy.

Toss a back-up carry-on bag in your trunk for rounding up purchases in one place, and a few reusable shopping bags for grocery shopping, dirty clothes and other miscellaneous things.

Need more ideas for your trip? Check out my Pinterest Road Trip board for tips that can help you make your trip better. See what the experts at Fodors are saying about 2020 summer travel.

Where are you hoping to travel this summer?

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through any of these, you'll be monetarily supporting me and my blog. Thanks in advance :) 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Drinks To Take You Away

While no ones traveling right now and we're all stuck in our homes dreaming about far off places, that doesn't mean we can't do things that remind us of travel or give us a little taste of being in a new destination. If you love a good drink and you're one of the many people working on their home bartending skills, here are some lovely drinks you can make to whisk you away.

You might also find a new favorite for all those Zoom happy hours you're doing right now to catch up with friends and feel a little less sad about not getting to go out to your favorite local bar/pub.

Photo by Julia Solonina on Unsplash

Amalfi Coast: Aperol Spritz

Tired of only looking forward to making dinner after working from home? Well, now you can celebrate like the Italians do with this fruity spritz. Go all out and have it with a selection of small plates by rooting around in your freezer for whatever appetizers you have on hand. Good Housekeeping has a recipe for you that also comes with a video so you get it right.

Photo by Vitor Pinto on Unsplash

Brazil: Caipirinha

Get more exotic than your normal rum cocktail with Brazil's National Cocktail that invokes the spirit of Carnival. While you can't visit this lovely country with its vibrant people, you can hit up your local liquor store for ingredients, come home and drink it while watching videos of past Carnivals...or Rio the animated movie if you have kids. Learn more about this cocktail, including how to make it, on Esquire.

Cuba/Miami: Mojito

Whether you're getting hyped for your online dance class or putting together a new, creative date night, the mojito can really elevate your evening. Feel like you're going to the beach or start planning that trip to Cuba while sipping on one of these light bevs. Gimme Some Oven even gives you a video to help you along.

Hawaii: Mai Tai

Sometimes you just need a tropical drink. Pretend you're in paradise with this sweet, sweet drink. Combine it with take out from your favorite Hawaiian restaurant, or just make some pineapple chicken packets on the grill with rice and put on your hula skirt. Eater knows how to make your drink perfect.

Kentucky: Mint Julep

With everything getting cancelled right now, you might be feeling a little sad for your most-looked-forward to events like the Kentucky Derby. I don't watch it, but I love the fashion, including those a-MAZE-ing hats. Well, you can always get dolled up and sip on a refreshing mint julep and set your sights on September when the Derby is supposed to be rescheduled. Cookie and Kate show you how to make one with things you already have on hand.

Photo by Becky Fantham on Unsplash

London: Pimm's Cup

Whether you're having a backyard picnic or having a British feast, then Pimm's is where it's at. With a nice variety of fruits and herbs, you'll feel like you're drinking a healthy beverage. Check out the easy recipe on Bon Appétit

Photo by Johann Trasch on Unsplash

New Orleans: Sazerac

While in Nola for the Travel Goods Show this year, I had the opportunity to visit The Sazarac House and learn how it originated in the city and also how to make one. I love rye and I now know I am a fan of bitters in small quantities (which is how you should use them anyway). Why not go to the pros? Hit up Sazerac House for the recipe.

New York: Manhattan

I love a great whiskey cocktail, and this one with rye and vermouth, is a delicious way to feel sophisticated and also make that bottle of whiskey in your cabinet into something more upscale. Make it with just a few ingredients. I like this recipe from Fox and Briar

Photo by tanialee gonzalez on Unsplash

Mexico: Spicy Margarita

On your next Taco Tuesday, get really into your theme with an authentic dish and a lovely spicy drink to accompany the spicy sweet of your pico or salsa. This will also go wonderfully with your homemade happy hour nachos. Find the recipe at Liquor.com.

Photo by Sarah Gualtieri on Unsplash

Paris: 75

For a fresh and light cocktail, put on a playlist of your favorite jazzy French music and sip on a lemony 75. This is another one that can be perfect for brunch as well as happy hour. Find the easy recipe on Epicurious.

Photo by Adam Jaime on Unsplash

Scotland: Robert Burns

Drinks not as strong as you'd like? Well, you can make that up with this yummy whiskey and absinthe cocktail, possibly named after the poet, or possibly a cigar salesman who was a regular at the bar it originated. I recommend this post from The Spruce Eats to learn to make on.

Spain: Sangria

This is a great drink for brunch and spring/summer time. You can throw in a whole bunch of fresh fruit and call it good, which is especially good if you have some random fruits in your fridge or on your counter that is a bit too ripe to be good for eating on its own.

Venice, Italy: Bellini

This whole pandemic has me really sad when it comes to going to brunch with friends. While I normally only get a coffee, I have been known to try a new fruity drink. I can't go out to a restaurant, but we have weekly virtual brunches that sometimes have a theme. If you want a great drink to accompany your brunch at home, try a pretty bellini, which can really be customized to your likes. Try this one made with peaches from The Salty Marshmallow.

I hope this helps you get through Quarantine with a little higher spirits (ba dum bah). Maybe if you're into it, you can throw an impromptu bartending lesson for your friends during your next Zoom happy hour get together. 

What are your favorite cocktails from your travels?

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